The Red Sox pretty much could not have been any lower coming into Saturday night’s game against the Blue Jays. We all know the way they’ve been playing of late, but there’s something extra terrible about having to play a game on the road against a team that is hot in your tails just a couple of hours after losing a heartbreaking game. They got great pitching in that afternoon tilt, with Nick Pivetta throwing one of the best outings of any Red Sox starter this year. What they didn’t get was offense, and Toronto walked it off on the first pitch they saw in the game’s final inning.
Essentially the worst-case scenario for the night game was for the same thing to happen. Any loss would have been painful, but the same kind of loss would have been a little extra twist of the knife. And it kind of looked like that was going to happen. In the place of Nick Pivetta, they had Tanner Houck, who is expected to join the rotation on a full-time basis starting with this game. And he looked good.
The righty didn’t really have a ton of trouble in his first few innings of work. He did allow a single in the first, but also struck out the other three batters he faced to get out of the frame clean. The first bit of real trouble came in the second when Toronto got a double and a walk, both with one out, but again Houck avoided any real trouble. And he’d follow it up with a scoreless third as well.
And those three scoreless innings were extra important considering this was only a seven-inning game. As has been the case so, so often of late, however, the offense was just nonexistent. And when it did exist, the ultimate lack of runs was bordering on comical. This time around, early on, it was just plain nonexistent. Alex Verdugo grabbed a home run in his first at bat, but that was the only baserunner the Red Sox had through three. They did get two singles in the fourth to grab their first runner in scoring position of the evning, but the inning ended with the game still locked at zero.
That brought Houck out for what would ultimately be his final inning of the night. The inning started with a base hit, but then the Red Sox righty got Teoscar Hernández for the first out of the inning. They decided to walk the left-handed Corey Dickerson in the next at bat to set up a potential double play, but Houck went with a strikeout instead. With a switch hitter in Breyvic Valera coming up next, and the urgency meter up to the max, Cora went and got Houck to bring in Josh Taylor.
The southpaw has been so effective this year, but he didn’t get it done this time. The Blue Jays infielder ripped a ground ball back up through the middle, bringing the first run of the game home and giving Toronto that all-familiar 1-0 lead. Taylor did get out of it after that, but with the offense going the way it was going, it felt like the game.
But the funny thing is, MLB did actually decide to continue the bout. The fifth was just about the same, with the Red Sox going down in order before Garrett Whitlock struck out three in a scoreless bottom half. Then the sixth came, and Verdugo came back up. He was the only one who had really done anything to that point, boasting two singles in two plate appearances to that point in the game. Then he did one better. José Berríos tried to get a 2-2 curveball by to grab a second straight strikeout, but the pitch broke right into the middle of the zone. Verdugo did not miss it, sending it over the wall in right-center field. It was only a solo shot, but it might as well have been a six-run homer for the catharsis it caused.
They still needed more for a win, though. Whitlock came back out for another scoreless inning, bringing us to the top of the seventh. Oh, the top of the seventh. Things started out well, with Marwin Gonzalez fighting through a great at bat for a leadoff walk, and then Christian Vázquez hit the first pitch he saw for a base hit. And then all hell broke loose. Franchy Cordero was up trying to bunt, but couldn’t get a bat on the ball. That happens.
What shouldn’t happen is what happened next. Marwin Gonzalez was caught too far off the second base bag, and he got a throw down from the catcher. He was ultimately caught in no-man’s land, getting thrown out at third for the first out of the inning. Later in the at bat, with Vázquez now on second thanks to the Gonzalez miscue, Cordero struck out swinging. Again, that happens, though it wasn’t the best timing. But the real issue was that Vázquez tried to do too much, attempting to catch the defense off-guard with a steal attempt. It didn’t work, he was cut down, and the Red Sox somehow got three outs in one at bat, and not on a triple play.
At this point it seemed inevitable that the Blue Jays were going to walk it off in the bottom of the inning. And with two outs and Matt Barnes on again after blowing the first game on the first pitch he threw, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. stepped to the plate. He smoked one to deep center field, but fortunately for all of our sanity it was the deepest part of the park. Kiké Hernández reeled it in, and we were going to extras.
With Manfredball in full effect (i.e. the inning started with a runner on second) it took little time for the Red Sox to get the lead back. Jonathan Araúz was being shifted for some reason, and he found the hole on the other side for a quick single. With that swing, the Red Sox were back in front. They did have a chance to add on as well after a two-out single put runners on the corners, but Rafael Devers couldn’t come through.
Again, it sort of felt inevitable that the Blue Jays were still going to grab at least one more run to tie the game, especially with the struggling Adam Ottavino coming up. But the righty came through, retiring all three batters he faced and keeping that Manfredball runner on the bases to give the Red Sox the 2-1 win.
Boston’s record is now 65-48 with the split doubleheader. Assuming the Rays don’t blow their current nine-run lead, the Red Sox will be three games back after the day is through.